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State of the City

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

At his State of City address last week, the Mayor Julian Castro held up a copy of Vogue, which profiled him and twin Joaquin in the magazine's March issue.

Mayor Julián Castro had big shoes to fill delivering his State of the City speech last week –– namely, his own.

It's been a hot year for the rising Democratic star. During his last State of the City address, Castro previewed what is now his signature policy achievement: expanding local early childhood education with Pre-K 4 SA and publicly staking his entire mayoral tenure on it. Later in 2012, Castro's party called on him to keynote the Democratic National Convention, where he stumped for President Barack Obama and delivered a speech that secured his standing as national spokesman for the rising Hispanic voter base.

In November, the people re-elected Obama and passed Castro's Pre-K 4 SA plan.

By comparison, Castro's speech this year was markedly more general and subdued. He again lauded his long-term project to remake downtown, a plan dubbed the "Decade of Downtown," saying the city is working to encourage small businesses and housing downtown. He lauded a family that recently relocated from their Stone Oak house to the St. Benedicts Lofts in King William, calling them the face of a new revitalized downtown.

A small group of grassroots organizers who later gathered on the steps of City Hall took issue with Castro's address, calling it a business-friendly stump speech that ignored other pressing matters in the city. Marisol Cortez, an activist with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, questioned whether Castro envisions a downtown primarily for the wealthy — the cheapest one-and two-bedroom units at the St. Bens lofts go for $1,300 and $1,800 a month, respectively.

"Revitalization for whom?" Cortez questioned. "Decade of Downtown for whom?"

Irasema Cavazos, who heads Southwest Workers Union's Domestic Workers in Action group, insisted the city's working class was largely ignored by Castro's address. She called on Castro and City Council to pass a "Domestic Workers Bill of Rights" that would give nannies, maids, and other domestic laborers the right to negotiate their salaries and workloads — New York State passed a similar measure in 2010.

During his speech, Castro's only real policy pronouncement was the opening of what he called "Café Commerce," a nod to Café College which he says will serve as a one-stop-shop incubator for small businesses. It will operate out of the Central Library to give local entrepreneurs the "information and the resources, the market data and the assistance they need to start their business," he said.

Castro said city leaders aren't striving to make San Antonio "the next big thing," but rather, "We're about ensuring that San Antonio is a wonderful place to live, to visit, to invest in for the long term."

Among the list of "important things that we need to get done this year," Castro got the strongest applause from the crowd when he advocated extending City Manager Sheryl Sculley's $355,000 annual contract, which is set to expire at the end of the year.

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